Extremism. Intehaa pasandi. Terrorism. Dehshat gardi. How often we hear these words. On our news channels, in our drawing rooms, they seem to be the most frequent topics of debate. Yet how many of us have stopped to take a good, hard look at the nature of this beast and the price it has extracted from our country.
Let’s start by clarifying a few things: no religion is free from extremist tendencies, characterized by those who take their religion too far, those who discriminate against difference, and those who sometimes use violence to express zeal for their faith. One can find examples of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu extremists. Nor is extremism restricted to just religion – it can be politically, economically or ethnically motivated. Unfortunately, several forms of extremism exist in Pakistan today. However, what poses the biggest threat to our country and our society in current times is the kind of extremism that terrorizes and kills people whilst claiming to speak in the name of Islam.
This is a serious problem for two reasons. The first is of course the appalling human costs that are incurred in terms of people killed and families destroyed when extremists use violence to perpetrate terrorist atrocities. The second is far more subtle, it’s the slow destruction of the fabric of society, a breakdown in the unity of our country. By constantly focusing on differences amongst people and discriminating against them on that basis, we run the risk of falling apart as a nation. And if extremists were to achieve their ultimate goal of taking control over the country, just imagine the human rights abuses that would ensue. All one has to do is listen to the first-hand accounts of the people of Swat to know what a horrific outcome that would be.
It’s quite evident that extremism within our midst is something we can no longer afford to ignore. Nor will it help to endlessly blame ‘foreign elements’ for what we see around us today. There may or may not be external influences involved in supporting or funding such groups, but in the end, it’s we who have allowed them to flourish within our territory. And yes, there is much to disagree with US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and yes the Israelis are to be held by the standards of international law in their treatment of the Palestinians. But this does not absolve Pakistanis of our responsibility to tackle the extremism that has very much been aided and abetted by those amongst us.
And it’s not just madrassahs in our country we need to take a closer look at. Although a number of madrassah students have been found to hold extremist views, the masterminds behind most extremist movements and terrorist groups are educated and socially mobile. Let’s not forget, Osama bin Laden is a trained engineer and belongs to one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia, and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri is a medical doctor! That’s why it’s so important to address the problem of extremism that has been plaguing our university campuses for decades as well.
So let’s just come out and say enough is enough. It’s time we reclaimed our country and our faith from a poisonous ideology that has manipulated the tolerant and pluralistic faith of Islam and packaged it as a political ideology whose end goal is the creation of a totalitarian state. We have to be clear that rejecting the arguments of extremists does not equate to speaking against Islam. And we have to leave no room for doubt that just as extremism has no place in Islam, it will not be tolerated within Pakistan.